Seminar False Starts

02 Nov 2012Steve Schwarz

As I’ve mentioned I attend a number of dog agility seminars each year and I’m always a little disappointed when a seminar starts and the instructor just dives in to working with dogs. Before things start I want to know: “What is your approach to the topic?” I really love to have a context into which to put new information.

Some seminar instructors assume everyone has the same background and is familiar with their approach to the seminar’s topic. I think it is really important for them to start with, even a short, overview of their approach. I think it has some important benefits:

  • It puts everyone in the same frame of mind as the instructor.
  • Defines a common terminology (what's a "Threadle Arm"?).
  • When the instructor later refers to a concept that repetition helps retention.
  • Students can see it "in action" later on and tie the concept to the description in the overview.

It is one thing if you are a well know instructor and your approach to the topic is “common knowledge”. I’m thinking of Linda Mecklenburg and Greg Derrett for example. But even for them it is worthwhile to do an overview as it relates to the seminar topic.

For example, I’m familiar with Linda’s approach to some topics (I’ve read most of her writing and trained with her a number times). Even so, at her International handling seminar a couple years ago she took some time at the beginning to discuss how her APHS fits into some of the handling approaches used in Europe. I found it very helpful to reinforce one of her points that “International” handling still uses the cues with which we (and are dogs) are already familiar.

I would say an overview is useful even if a seminar is full of devotees of the presenter. Most presenters I’ve seen have refined or even changed major/minor aspects of their approach to a topic over time. So even the devotee won’t necessarily be fully up to date.

I remember years ago when Inside Arm Turns were what the “cool kids” were doing. After a couple years we realized it was a “really bad thing”TM. So that would be a useful thing to have discussed in seminars in that later time frame (although maybe not so important as to discuss in an introduction).

My Approach

For my handling seminars I always start with an outline of my handling philosophy. I only takes about 20 minutes. Of course my approach to handling/training isn’t well know outside of my students so this outline lets the attendees know how I approach the subject.

During my introduction I like to write the key concepts on poster size pieces of paper and stick them on the walls. It only takes 3-4 pieces of paper to outline my approach. It lets folks who take notes clarify things after the talk. It helps visual thinkers (like me) to see the words I’m speaking/demonstrating.

But mostly it lets me refer to them later. For example, I will typically list out and briefly demonstrate/discuss Linda’s approach to cues. Then when we are breaking down a sequence and someone has a problem I can refer to the list to help them understand what cues they are using and how they might use different/additional/fewer cues to get a better result. I’ve also found it helps students not running to start seeing what cues other handlers are using and how those cues affect the dog’s path.

Lastly I discuss the mechanics of how I’ll run the seminar: when breaks are planned, setup the running order, general schedule for the day: walk, run, break up the course, discuss, run/work on sections, run it all, change to the next course, etc. I think people feel more comfortable when they know what is coming and they can focus on the next “task”.

Your Thoughts?

Do you find other seminarians take an approach like mine? Wish they did? Think it is a stupid waste of time? What do your favorite instructors do to kick off a seminar? Please leave a comment. I want to know!

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